We open our mouths wide till God opens his hand, but after, as if
the filling of our mouth were the stopping of our throats, so
we are speechless and heartless.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Have you ever found yourself in a form of suffering that bound you together with other people because of a common predicament? Our world is full of communities that meet together and bond because of a shared grief or sickness that seeks a common cure. Think about it; you must be familiar with groups like Cancer Survivor networks, Veterans organizations, Al-Anon meetings, Alcoholic Anonymous, and so on. If you haven’t been participant in any of them, you know that these communities meet to face and solve common problems that emerge from some kind of addiction, disease, trauma, or combinations of all. In each group, there is the hope for mutual and reciprocal assistance. In each group too there is always the danger of potential breakdown because of some individual eccentricity or form of selfishness. There are always times when the group must suffer one who doesn’t quite fit in, and seems rather alien to the copacetic coziness of the group dynamic. And yet, if the group is seriously committed to its desired end and is patient and longsuffering, the outsider might very well be tolerated and even welcomed eventually as one who has rather more than less to contribute.
In this morning’s Gospel we find the case of one such alien, who otherwise might not have been welcomed, but for the overwhelmingly desperate nature of the common disease. The man is the one non-Jew in a community of suffering Lepers. That the man was tolerated reveals how fatal illness or sickness has an admirable capacity to break down divisions and cut through prejudices that otherwise remain stubbornly in place. Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. The physical manifestations were deemed so hideous by healthy men that pious Jews and religious Gentiles alike judged it to be a sign of punishment for sin by the Divine. In any case, the leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is one such group that we encounter this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of the dangerous border that the Jewish people shared with their Samaritan neighbours.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii 12, 13) The lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help from one whom they trust will hear their plea. Their bodies are wasting away and decomposing, and yet their souls are alive to need for mercy. They have not despaired. The prayer of their hearts is that Jesus will be friend and neighbor to them. The who is my neighbor? of last week’s Gospel becomes the desperate cry of those who have found no friend in god or man. Their companionship in misery and suffering moves them to seek out the one neighbor whose mercy might assuage and lesson their pain. For, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) So they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) In last week’s Gospel we remember that Jesus likened Himself unto the Good Samaritan and not the Good Jew. Today this same Samaritan continues His work, but this time without need for bandages, oil, or wine. The image of physical need has been transformed into spiritual desire; to the inner hearts of wounded outcasts the spoken Word of the Good Samaritan is assurance enough that healing will soon follow. Men who are alive and conscious to their own sorry state must identify with the lepers’ cry: Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (Idem) When He says, Go…, they obey and trust in the power of His mercy. As Matthew Henry writes, Those that expect Christ’s favours must take them in His way and method. (Comm: St. Luke, xviii) Obedience and trust must be of foremost importance to those who would supplicate the mercy of Jesus Christ. How the Lord’s mercy unfolds is in His gift and Wisdom and not with those who depend solely upon His pity. The Lepers seek out a cure but must receive it on His terms. Their external and visible disease reveals an inward and spiritual pain and suffering. Because their disease is so hideous, they do not dare to come near to Him with their infected bodies. So from their inner agony they long to touch His heart with words. He hears their words and responds with a Word. Go shew yourselves unto the priests. (Idem) He has sent His all-commanding Word into their hearts and so they cherish and treasure it inwardly and spiritually. It overtakes them outwardly and visibly. We read that, As they went, they were cleansed. (Ibid, 14) Nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were healed physically, were no doubt elated, and so they move on.
But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that Jesus heals always in order to inaugurate an inner and spiritual transformation. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (Ibid, 15,16) To the Jews, the Samaritans were to be shunned and alienated because of their ethnicity and race. Jesus shows us that this Samaritan is to be observed and imitated because of his faith and love. He, alone, is spiritually awakened and so returns to offer God thanks. Far from experiencing only the newly emerging healing of his body, he senses the birth of a spiritual awareness that awakens his heart to the power of God. For it was in his heart that he had felt most acutely the pain of an alienation and separation that had rendered him beyond the reach of his fellow men’s love. From the depths of the same spirit, he had longed for a friend, and so it is from here then that he is surprised by joy with the gift of newfound friendship offered to him by Jesus. Into this place, forsaken by all others, he finds that love that has travelled from the heart of God, through Jesus, and into his own.
So this outsider, this alien to Israel’s promises turns back. Unlike the other Nine, all Jews, this Samaritan feels bound first to the love and Grace of God in the heart of Jesus and not to the Law and the Commandments. No doubt the high priests of Jerusalem would have judged him alien and undeserving of their blessing in any case. But more importantly he turns back first to the source and cause of all healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises the Lord but with all the strength of his body’s newfound health, he runs and falls down at the feet of God’s powerful presence in Jesus Christ. His body was healed but his soul has been set free. His healed body now serves his liberated soul as he runs in all haste to thank the giver of such a gift.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan alone turns back. It takes an alien and outcast to perceive and know Jesus most truly. This Samaritan has found the Good Samaritan. This Samaritan had found a true friend and good neighbor. His faith is startling and profound. The others were healed by faith also. But as George Macdonald reminds us, this man had enough faith left over to bring him back, for his cure had been swallowed up in gratitude. (Miracles of Healing…) Jesus says to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19)
Today, dear friends, we each must ask: Where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel Miracle? In pondering an answer, we remember that it is one thing to worship as a community, to seek collective healing through Common Prayer, the Sacraments, and General Confessions and Thanksgivings. It is quite another for the same outward and visible signs to bear spiritual fruit in our souls. For that to happen, once we leave this place, we have two options. Either we leave God here, travelling forth into the Jerusalems of this world. Or we turn back in heart and soul, giving God thanks throughout the week for what we have received. Jesus gives Himself to ten lepers in this morning’s Gospel, and one turns back because his faith moves him to gratefulness. Jesus gives Himself to us this morning, literally in the conveyance of His most Holy Body and Precious Blood. Will we turn back and offer him thanks throughout the week for what we have received? Will we return to give Him thanks because we desire that this gift should grow in us and be shared with all others as what has healed our souls through an increase of faith, hope, and love? Are we here because we are being so healed in deed and in truth that nothing presses us with more urgency than the ongoing need to be grateful for a good work already begun in our lives? For if we desire to receive more than the benefits of group therapy, we had better recognize that we come into this place to thank the Lord for touching us where we are most in need of healing and sanctification. And then, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we are called to love and thank Him all the more, for being the One who truly is our neighbor. Only then with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, shall we hear the blessing of Jesus Christ the Good Samaritan: Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) Then we shall begin to understand, with G. K Chesterton, that, Thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. Amen.